Foreign travel advice

Saudi Arabia

Pilgrimage

Each year around 3.7 million pilgrims participate in the Hajj. The approximate dates for the 2017 Hajj are 30 August to 4 September.

Since 2013 the Ministry of Hajj has been imposing a global 20% reduction in the numbers of Hajj pilgrims due to infrastructure works in Makkah. These reductions are expected to end in time for Hajj 2017. Pilgrims who have performed Hajj in the past 5 years won’t be granted a visa, although certain exemptions may be applied, eg for those accompanying disabled pilgrims.

A crane collapsed at the Holy Mosque in Makkah on 11 September 2015 resulting in over 100 fatalities and casualties. On 25 September 2015 a crush in Mina resulted in over 750 fatalities and many more casualties. According to media reports, the crush on 25 September 2015 in Mina resulted in over one thousand fatalities and many more casualties. The Saudi Arabian government announced that it would hold investigations into the incidents and publish the findings.

Before you travel for the Hajj, you should carefully consider the information and advice on the website of the Saudi Arabia Embassy in London, and in the Health section of this travel advice.

Saudi government regulations require British pilgrims performing Umrah and Hajj to travel with a reputable UK travel agency that is accredited with the Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia. and covered by ATOL. If you don’t use an approved travel agent, or get a valid visa and permit, you may risk immediate deportation, detention, a fine or a ban on future travel to Saudi Arabia.

You should confirm the full itinerary for your pilgrimage before departure. The British Embassy receives a large number of requests for help in relation to disputes and dissatisfaction with tour operators. The British Embassy can’t become involved in commercial disagreements or disputes between pilgrim and tour operators.

For pilgrimage, you must have:

Make sure you keep your permit and identification card with you at all times. The Saudi Arabian government enforces strict penalties (fines, detention, and travel bans) for people who perform Hajj without this permit.

When performing Umrah, make sure you have guaranteed accommodation and transport in Saudi Arabia and carry details of your Saudi tour operator. These details should be provided by your UK travel agent before you travel and are written (in Arabic) on the visa. Don’t overstay your Hajj or Umrah visa. Penalties for overstaying may include fines amounting to thousands of pounds, detention pending deportation proceedings and a ban on returning to Saudi Arabia in the future.

British citizens living in Saudi Arabia wishing to perform Hajj must travel with sponsor groups approved by the Saudi government. There are no restrictions on when British nationals living in Saudi Arabia can perform Umrah, with the exception of the restriction applicable to all pilgrims in the run up to and during Hajj.

Visa information

The Hijiri calendar is used in Saudi Arabia for all official functions. You should review the dates on your visa carefully and make sure you know when it expires.

Don’t overstay your Hajj or Umrah visa. Penalties for overstays may include detention pending deportation proceedings and a ban on returning to Saudi Arabia in the future.

Umrah visas are typically valid for 30 days from the date of entry to Saudi Arabia. You must depart before the visa expires. The local tour operator’s name will be printed in Arabic on your visa page.

Ask your travel agent to let you know if the Saudi government revises its entry requirements for Hajj and Umrah.

Hajj and Umrah visas are valid for travel only in the areas of Jeddah, Makkah and Medina, and for travel between these cities. Unapproved travel outside these areas may be considered an immigration violation and may result in penalties.

Hajj and Umrah visas aren’t valid for work or residency.

Pilgrims aren’t allowed to stay in Saudi Arabia after the completion of Hajj.

If you’re unsure about the permitted areas of travel and duration of stay, ask for clarification on arrival.

Female pilgrims

Saudi visa rules require women below the age of 45 to be accompanied by a ‘mahram’ (usually a close male relative) for Hajj or Umrah. Women must travel with their ‘mahram’, or be met by them on arrival in Saudi Arabia. Otherwise, you may experience significant delays and/or be denied entry.

The Saudi Arabian government allow women over 45 to perform Hajj or Umrah as part of a tour group and without a ‘mahram’ provided they submit a notarised letter of no objection from someone who could be considered their ‘mahram’, authorising travel for Hajj or Umrah with the named group.

People with disabilities

You should be prepared for different standards of accessibility and accommodation to those in the UK. For more information about facilities for people with disabilities see the Ministry of Hajj website.

Transport

Expect crowded terminals at the airport. Due to the vast number of people being processed at King Abdul-Aziz international airport in Jeddah, disembarkation, immigration and customs processing may take several hours.

Expect a lengthy wait in hot and humid conditions before leaving the airport. Some Hajj pilgrims now fly directly to Medina and proceed to Makkah by road. There’s no option to fly to Makkah.

Between ritual sites

The Saudi government imposes strict timetables on Hajj groups for all travel (bus, light rail and foot) between the ritual sites. All routes and methods of transport will be extremely congested. You should prepare for long delays.

Light rail trains are typically overwhelmed, with pilgrims waiting several hours at the train stations at Arafat and Muzdalifah on crowded platforms before being able to board a train. Train cars will also be very crowded. Timetables and light rail movements are outside the control of travel agencies.

There’s been an increase in the number of reported cases of pick pocketing and other forms of theft in Makkah, particularly in the region of the Grand Mosque and in Medina. Take extra care of your passport, tickets and other valuables while visiting these areas. Make a copy of your passport before you travel (including the pages that are stamped with your Saudi visa, which will have the name of your local tour operator) and keep it in a safe place.

Saudi authorities forbid taking photographs (still or video, including those taken with your phone) at the Holy Mosque at Makkah or at the Prophet’s Mosque at Medina. Any violation of official instructions could to lead to the confiscation of your device.

Zamzam water

Check with your travel agent and airline for guidance. Most airlines limit each traveller to one container of up to 5 litres of Zamzam water as checked baggage.

Safety and emergency information

For the Saudi Arabia emergency services, call 911

Emergency contact information for Hajj authorities:

The National Tawafa Establishment for Pilgrims of Turkey and Muslims of Europe, Americas, and Australia Makkah Al Mukarramah, Al Nuzha Road (near Alnuzha Bridge)

Telephone: +966 920012013

Fax: 966 920006620

When dialling the Jeddah area (includes Makkah and Taif) from the UK, use country code +966 and city code 12. When dialling the Riyadh area, use city code 011.

The British Consulate General’s 24 hour emergency contact number for the Hajj period is +966501004268.